The Obama administration announced today that it has "unlocked" $300 million in funds to grant to Detroit to speed up blight removal and restore city services, but make no mistake: It's not a bailout or rescue, and much of the money was already allocated in advance.
The majority of the $300 million in funds are from public-private partnerships, grants allocated to Detroit (though Detroit is not the only city eligible for such funds) and philanthropic donations.
What makes these funds suddenly available is because the White House wants them to be. The administration breaks down how the money will be distributed, but many of those funds are "repurposed," "deployed," "immediately released," and "ensured access to." Which means that much of this funding already had its wheels turning and that there are chances that not all of the $300 million will be allocated.
Take, for instance, $150 million allocated to fight blight removal, much of which is provided by the office of Housing and Urban Development. HUD had previously announced at least $42 million for various projects in Detroit, some of which had been frozen because Detroit was considered to be "'high-risk" due to previous mismanagement of government funding.
It's possible the administration wants to speed up funding allowances in advance of a possible government shutdown next week, or to silence critics of the White House who themselves have been silent while Detroit navigates through bankruptcy. Either way, it appears very little of the $300 million is new money.
Curiously, the White House is not saying exactly how much is new money. But there are broad promises to get things moving. One major misstep, however, is the ironic announcement of former Detroit Public Schools emergency manager Roy Roberts as a "land czar" to oversee blight removal in Detroit.
During Roberts' tenure as emergency manager, he closed at least two dozen schools; most of those schools now sit empty, blighted, scrapped and covered in graffiti, and despite statements to find buyers for those and the more than 100 other buildings still under DPS ownership, they still stand vacant.
Out of all the things to be most optimistic about, it's fine if you've got qualms about this one. There's a grant in there for the Detroit Land Bank, and I drive past DLB houses daily in Boston-Edison that are still blackboarded-up and have been forever. All I'm asking is that with all this sudden cash infusion, our city leaders better prove us wrong this time.